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When two verbs have a similar meaning and seem complicated to tell apart, the most important thing to do is to carefully observe how they are used and what slight changes they make in the sentence. This is the case of brauchen and müssen. Find out more

Content in this post
1. What type of verb is brauchen
2. What type of verb is müssen
3. When to use brauchen or müssen
4. Difference between brauchen and müssen
Table of content for brauchen oder müssen

The German verb brauchen belongs to the regular or weak category of main verbs just like machen, suchen weinen etc. It translates mostly in English to “need” but some other times to “want”. It is a verb that expresses one’s stronger desire for something. “Stronger” of course than the modal verb wollen which equally translates to “want to” For example, saying „ich will Wasser” is not as intense as when one says „Ich brauche Wasser”.

As a transitive verb, brauchen usually takes on a direct object in it’s conjugated form in a simple sentence. When used as a conjugated verb without an infinitive, it can express both a positive and negative perspective but when used in a compound sentence with zu + Infinitive, it can only be negative as shown in the following expressions;

  • Ich brauche deine Hilfe (positive)
  • Ich brauche deine Hilfe nicht (negative)
  • Ich brauche dir nicht zu helfen (negative)

Müssen on the other hand is a modal verb that translates to „must” or „have to” in English. Ordinarily, it has a distinguished meaning from brauchen but can be same. Müssen and brauchen are very similar in that they both depict a stronger desire for something. As a modal verb, müssen naturally requires a second verb (an infinitive) while brauchen doesn’t. It is always used in a positive manner and because it has „to” in its translation, it never uses the preposition „zu” together with an infinitive.

When Do I Use Which?

Normally, to formulate a compound sentence with main verbs (except lassen) usually requires the use of two or more verbs where one is conjugated and the other is introduced at the end of the sentence as infinitive with zu. Whereas with müssen, an infinitive without zu is used. The choice of whether to use brauchen or müssen is based on two factors;

  • The use of negating articles and particles (kein, keine, nicht etc.)
  • The use of Einschränkungen or restriction particles (nur, erst…)
Brauchen + zu + InfinitiveMüssen
1. Eva braucht keinen neuen Job mehr zu suchen.
(Eva doesn’t have to seek a new job anymore)
Eva muss keinen neuen Job mehr suchen.
(Eva doesn’t have to seek a new job anymore)
2. Wenn er Schluckauf hat, braucht er nur Flüssigkeit zu trinken.
(When he has hiccups, he only needs to drink fluid.
Wenn er Schluckauf hat, muss er nur Flüssigkeit trinken.
(When he has hiccups, he only needs to drink fluid)
Sentences with brauchen + zu + infinitive and müssen in comparison

Difference between brauchen and müssen

Sentences with brauchen + zu + infinitive are always negative sentences while those with müssen are always positive. This is another easy way of telling the two apart.

For example; you want to say “I need/have to travel to Berlin”, you can’t translate with brauchen simply because it doesn’t contain any negatives. Müssen is the best option here. So it becomes „Ich muss nach Berlin fahren” and not „Ich brauche nach Berlin zu fahren” while with negation, brauchen is best used instead of müssen. E.g „Ich brauche kein Auto nach Berlin zu fahren” and not „Ich muss kein Auto nach Berlin fahren

Brauchen + zu + InfinitiveMüssen
1. Du brauchst heute kein Brot mehr zu kaufen.
(You don’t have to buy bread anymore today)
Du musst heute noch Brot kaufen.
(You still have to buy bread today)
2. Er braucht das Fahrrad nicht zu reparieren.
( He doesn’t need to repair the bicycle)
Er muss das Fahrrad reparieren.
(He needs to repair the bicycle)
Difference between brauchen and müssen

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